The Come Up
An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop
The essential oral history of hip-hop, from its origins on the playgrounds of the Bronx to its reign as the most powerful force in pop culture—from the award-winning journalist behind All the Pieces Matter, the New York Times bestselling oral history of The Wire
“The Come Up is Abrams at his sharpest, at his most observant, at his most insightful.”—Shea Serrano, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hip-Hop (And Other Things)
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Boston Globe, The Guardian, Spin
The music that would come to be known as hip-hop was born at a party in the Bronx in the summer of 1973. Now, fifty years later, it’s the most popular music genre in America. Just as jazz did in the first half of the twentieth century, hip-hop and its groundbreaking DJs and artists—nearly all of them people of color from some of America’s most overlooked communities—pushed the boundaries of music to new frontiers, while transfixing the country’s youth and reshaping fashion, art, and even language.
And yet, the stories of many hip-hop pioneers and their individual contributions in the pre-Internet days of mixtapes and word of mouth are rarely heard—and some are at risk of being lost forever. Now, in The Come Up, the New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Abrams offers the most comprehensive account so far of hip-hop’s rise, a multi-decade chronicle told in the voices of the people who made it happen.
In more than three hundred interviews conducted over three years, Abrams has captured the stories of the DJs, executives, producers, and artists who both witnessed and themselves forged the history of hip-hop. Masterfully combining these voices into a seamless symphonic narrative, Abrams traces how the genre grew out of the resourcefulness of a neglected population in the South Bronx, and from there how it flowed into New York City’s other boroughs, and beyond—from electrifying live gatherings, then on to radio and vinyl, below to the Mason-Dixon Line, west to Los Angeles through gangster rap and G-funk, and then across generations.
Abrams has on record Grandmaster Caz detailing hip-hop’s infancy, Edward “Duke Bootee” Fletcher describing the origins of “The Message,” DMC narrating his role in introducing hip-hop to the mainstream, Ice Cube recounting N.W.A’s breakthrough and breakup, Kool Moe Dee recalling his Grammys boycott, and countless more key players. Throughout, Abrams conveys with singular vividness the drive, the stakes, and the relentless creativity that ignited one of the greatest revolutions in modern music.
The Come Up is an exhilarating behind-the-scenes account of how hip-hop came to rule the world—and an essential contribution to music history.
New York Times reporter Abrams (Boys Among Men) charts hip-hop's explosive growth in this kaleidoscopic oral history. Among those interviewed are superstars DMC, both Ice T and Cube, Professor Griff, and impresario Russell Simmons, as well as less well-known producers, agents, and recording engineers. Their loose-limbed recollections cover five decades, from the genre's origins in 1970s Bronx street parties where DJs used multiple turntables to lay down beats—after hot-wiring lampposts to power their sound systems—through such watersheds as Public Enemy's innovations in political rap, N.W.A.'s popularization of militant gangsta rap, and the feud between West Coast and East Coast hip-hop labels that may have precipitated the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. The grassroots ferment of hip-hop brewed social networks that elevated unknowns to stardom—"I went and picked him up and smoked a bunch of weed and he got on the mic and his voice sounded incredible," label exec Mike Ross recalls of discovering Tone Loc—along with tensions between art and commerce. ("That's the saddest state of hip-hop," muses pioneering gangsta rapper Schoolly D, "everything is about money.") This entertaining conversation will captivate hip-hop heads. Agent: Dan Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency.